Portland, The City of Roses, 2013

Above, the “Portland” sign in Old Town welcomes you to the City!

The two day Amtrak Train trip across the U.S. Northwest was not without purpose.  Our goal was to visit Portland for a few days.  A train just seemed like a great way to get there…  I had never been to Portland before last week and after years of hearing what a great city it was, I decided to see for myself.  I must say, all in all, I was very impressed with the City. It was remarkably clean for a big city and the public transportation system is among the best I have seen anywhere in the world, to include Western Europe!  The food options in Portland are endless, from nice sit-down restaurants and the many brewpubs to literally hundreds of food carts.  I was never disappointed with my meals during our 4 day visit to Portland!  People were quite friendly and helpful on the streets.  I was particularly surprised at how courteous drivers were to pedestrians, always stopping to allow you to cross the street and rarely did I hear a vehicle horn!  Not to mention, there really is lots to do and see in the “City of Roses,”  so many museums, live entertainment venues and city parks that offer a wide range of options for visitors.  I know I am sounding like a travel-writer but I really was very impressed with the wonderful quality of life in Portland!  I now know why so many people really like the city.  My only concern during my visit was the high number of homeless people in downtown Portland, of all ages, panhandling all over town!  I am not judging them, and I am sure many of them have fallen on hard times…. but…. from a visitors point of view, it is a real distraction when you are constantly being asked for money while walking around the city!  One day a young man, perhaps in his late 20s, asked me for money 3 different times at 3 different locations!  As I mentioned before, my overall experience in Portland was very positive, it’s refreshing to see a large U.S. City so well managed!  I think Portland is a case of U.S. tax-payers getting what they pay for!  Well done Portland!

Below are a few images of my recent visit to Portland,

Above, one of the many steel bridges at dawn, spanning the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon.

Below, two friends battle one-another in a highly competitive chess match at Director’s Park.

Above, one of the many antique drinking fountains found throughout Portland!  Free water is great!

Below, the World Forestry Center, a non-profit center where visitors can learn everything they have ever wanted to know about forests and the forestry industry worldwide.

Above, Powell’s Book Store, a must see in Portland.  Three stories of floor to ceiling books… if a book is in print, it can probably be found in Powell’s!

Below, the Oregon Maritime Museum on the Willamette River in Downtown Portland!

Above, a young-teenage-hippster texts on his smart phone as a young girl contemplates running through the fountain on a beautiful sunny afternoon at Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland.

Above and Below, a few pictures of the local icon, Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland.  The shop host some very bizarre but also very tasty doughnuts at their brick and mortar location and also from their mobile doughnut shop on wheels!  Definitely worth a visit…. the maple-bars are great!

       

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Amtrak Empire Builder’s Train Route 2013…

Earlier this month my Mother and I traveled aboard the Amtrak Empire Builder’s Train from Chicago, Illinois to Portland, Oregon.  I realize how fortunate I am to still be able to travel with Mom!  Neither one of us is getting any younger and we try to spend a few weeks traveling together every other year.  We have been on some pretty cool trips over the last 6 years.  We took a river cruise in Russia in 2008,  a trip to Greece in 2011 and now the American Pacific Northwest aboard Amtrak in 2013.  The trip began on a Thursday afternoon in Union Station in Chicago and ended at about 10:30 AM Saturday morning in Union Station in Portland.  The Empire Builder’s Route goes from Illinois through Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Washington and ends of course in Oregon.  Along the way the train stops briefly in about 30 cities to pick-up and let-off passengers.  I have traveled a few times in Europe on day trips aboard trains and once overnight but this was the longest I have traveled by train to date.  All in all it was a pretty cool experience!  We were very pleased with the food aboard the train and the service was great!  We both had our own “roomette” which made the trip really nice.  Be warned, the roomettes are really small.  With the two bottom chairs folded down into the sleeping position, there is only about 12 inches of room between the edge of the bed and the cabin door, which makes it challenging to stand up much less change clothes.  The best scenery during the trip was on the last morning, from Spokane to Portland.  The train follows the Columbia River Gorge all the way to Portland and the views are spectacular.  The river was full of hundreds of fishermen in small boats trying to catch their limit of salmon.  Probably the biggest disappointment of the trip was the fact that the train going West goes through Glacier National Park at night and there is nothing to see from the train in the dark!  Another passenger had taken the Empire Builder’s Train from West to East and said that route was better because you go through Glacier during daylight!  Keep that in mind if you decide to travel the route!

Above, the Amtrak Empire Builder’s Train in Minot, North Dakota.

Below, a view of the Columbia River Gorge from the Washington State side of the river.

       

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Elephant Ears and Ice Cold Beer, Kentucky State Fair 2013.

Last weekend I attended the 2013 Kentucky State Fair in Louisville.  As usually, everything from “elephant ears” to “ice cold beer” was for sale!  People lined up in front of the latest rides on the Midway, while wanna-be Major League Baseball pitchers tried to knock over the heavy milk bottles with the really soft-softballs,  in order to win the 3 dollar stuffed animal for their “baby-girl” and  teenage farm girls brushed their blue-ribbon cows, in preparation for the 4-H livestock judging contests, all integral parts of a State Fair.  For me, the best part of any State Fair is not all the delicious fried foods (like fried-twinkies, fried donut-burgers, fried-pickles, fried-snickers bars…etc…), although they are oh so tasty.  But rather, the best part of a “State Fair” is the incredible diversity of people in attendance.  It really is a micro-cosmos of our country on display.  When I attend a State Fair, I feel like a little kid who shakes a snow-globe and then watches all the snowflakes fall onto the miniature buildings.  I feel almost mesmerized by the thousands and thousands of people, of all shapes and sizes, ages and colors… following no particular route, darting in front of me on their way to the various food vendors and displays.  If people watching is a “spectator-sport” then a “State-Fair” is like the Super-Bowl of people watching!  I am convinced I saw the reality TV star “Honey Boo-Boo.”  I’m sure she was eating a roasted ear of sweet corn and practicing a dance move while singing a Justin Bieber song!  The cast of Swamp-People was there (no not really), but their body-doubles were there, drinking cold-ones!  I ate all of the foods that one is not supposed to eat, but for just one day, who cares!  That funnel cake tasted so delicious!   I covered every corner of the State Fair, it took me and my friends about 6 hours, we wanted to experience it all!  After a great day, we and our sore feet made our way to the Highlands neighborhood for a good cup of coffee!  If you have never attended a County or State Fair, I highly recommend it!  It will be a typical americana-experience to long remember!

Below, an assortment of photographs from the 2013 Kentucky State Fair.

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Cake, Cake and More Cake….. ICES 2013.

I hope I’m not the only one who had no idea what “ICES” was… until last weekend!  ICES is short for the “International Cake Exploration Societe” and last weekend they held their annual USA convention in Lexington, Kentucky.  Now a three day “Cake Convention” is not normally something I would attend, but… with the words “exploration” and “cake” in the title… how could I go wrong?
A few weeks ago I got a cold-call from a number I didn’t recognize with a Miami area code.  I know a few people from Miami so I took the call.  On the other end of the line was a friendly sounding gentleman named Raul from Bogota, Colombia.  He was calling me on his Magic-Jack and explained that he had found my name and contact information from a popular business networking site.  He wanted to know if I could help him.  Raul is a baker and would be attending the 2013 ICES Convention and needed a Spanish speaker to help translate for the event.  Not knowing much about cakes, other than they taste really good, I decided to accept his request for assistance!  What a wonderful decision that turned out to be.  You see the world of “cake” is really pretty interesting, not to mention tasty, and I had the opportunity to see it from the perspective of an insider for 3 days.  Raul, his son David and another Colombian friend named Cesar, came to the convention to make more contacts and sell cake making products like they have been doing for over a decade.  They were concerned that they didn’t speak English well enough to deal with the public, that’s where I came in handy.  I speak Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and a bit of English and was eager to sharpen my language skills over the 3 day event and maybe eat some tasty cake.  The annual convention in the USA is held in a different city each year.  Everything that goes into or on-top of a cake is bought and sold at the convention.   People come from all over the world to see the latest cake making products… cake air-brush machines, cake photo-printers, silicone cake molds, textured cake rolling-pins, colored-fondant, frosting and chocolate flowers were just a few of the hundreds of products available at the convention.  All weekend Raul demonstrated his products and I translated what he was saying, answered questions from potential customers and helped him sell his goods… after 3 days of “cake-speak” and translation, my head was hurting…. There were plenty of funny moments!  A large group of women from Nigeria attended, evidently fancy cakes are now very popular in the oil-rich republic.  The women were a trip…. all had great senses of humor, were always looking for a “deal,” and never wanted to pay the marked price on anything!  They made the weekend both challenging and funny!
I really enjoyed the convention and made some wonderful friends who just happen to make really tasty cake!

Below, a few of the beautiful cakes displayed at the 2013 International Cake Exploration Societe Convention in Lexington, Kentucky.

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NuLu… East Market District 2013.

NuLu, short for New Louisville is also known as the East Market District in Downtown Louisville, Kentucky.  The neighborhood features numerous cool restaurants, galleries, breweries and antique shops.  One website promoting the area called it an “offbeat cultural mecca on the Ohio River.”  Whatever you call the area, it’s certainly worthy on an afternoon visit, and that’s just what I did this past weekend.  While exploring Louisville on my motorcycle a few weeks ago, I stopped briefly in the NuLu District and decided I needed to go back for a longer visit.  The nice thing about visiting the NuLu on a Saturday or Sunday is that the local “Flea Market” (called the “Flea Off Market”), takes place on the east end of Market Street so you can see the NuLu and also visit the Flea Market at the same time.  The Flea Market had various artists selling their crafts and half a dozen Phood-Trucks selling Tacos, Burgers and the like!   There was even one enterprising businessman selling cocktails in a makeshift “patio-area.”  The locals were very friendly, I stopped one young lady to ask what streets were considered part of the “Official NuLu District” and she talked to me for about 15 mins!  I always say the best way to get great information on a particular area is to ask a local.  They are usually very friendly and love to share good tips with others!  Tour books and web-pages are great places to start your research about an area but the information can often be dated.  The locals have the latest scoop and know the great places to eat that are not necessarily the best known or most popular with tourists!  Never be afraid to ask a local for information!  While in the NuLu I visited the art gallery, “Local Speed.”  It’s a branch of the “Speed Museum” while the main Speed Museum is closed for 60 million dollars worth of renovations, set for completion in 2016.  In front for the “Local Speed” was a huge blackboard with the words… “Before I Die” painted on it, and then a series of lines and blank spaces, allowing visitors to fill in what they wanted to do “before they die.”  Many of the write-ins were pretty normal, stuff like… “Visit Tibet” or “Take a Mediterranean Cruise…” etc… but some of the write-ins were pretty insightful!  It’s nice to see that many of the entries were simple statements about “helping others”……. Hmmmmm, maybe there is hope for mankind yet!   I had lunch at a funky taco shop called “Taco Punk.”  The tacos were tasty and as colorful as the employees’ tattoos!  I walked the streets and back alleys of the NuLu for a few hours and took some photographs.  I found some urban vegetable gardens, pretty cool, and even a street named “Nanny Goat Strut Alley”…. Hmmmm…. what took place there 100 years ago?
If you are ever in Louisville, take a few hours and visit the NuLu…. you will soon learn that Kentucky is not as behind the times as some people like to think!

Above and Below, some of the architecture of buildings found in the NuLu.

 Below, the “Before I Die…” blackboard in front for the “Local Speed” Gallery.

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Urban Exploration on a Horse.

Today the weather was near perfect in Central Kentucky.  The hot-humid temperatures that have been the norm for the last few weeks disappeared over-night after a cold-front from Canada decided to pay a visit.  Thank you Canada!  It was in the mid-70s and breezy with patches of clouds.  Perfect weather for a horseback ride.  My horse doesn’t have 4 legs but rather 2 wheels.
The Big-Old-Mare (aka the B-O-M) is a 2003 Honda XR650L Dual-Sport Motorcycle.  She’s not sexy but she’s perhaps the best vehicle there is for ‘Urban-Exploration.’  Since Louisville is only about 55 miles away from home, and I don’t know the city all that well… I decide to explore it for the afternoon!  At noon I depart Lawrenceburg, heading north on Hwy 127. Traffic is light as most churches are still having services.  After a 20 min ride, I take Hwy 60 west, all the way to Louisville.  The total trip only took about an hour.  I first make my way to the “Weird, Independent and Proud neighborhood of the Highlands…. (see the picture below).
That’s right…. weird is a fair statement!  But it’s a really good kinda weird!  Bardstown Road, running east-west through the Highlands, is perhaps the best place to see the eclectic, weird, nature of the neighborhood… Literally hundreds of restaurants, bars and retail shops of all kinds line both sides the road.  The great weather has brought lots of people outdoors, the street is really busy.  I stop at Heine Bros Coffee Shop for a quick caffein fix by way of a strong cup of Columbian dark roast!  Back on the Old-Mare I head off for a quick loop through Cherokee Park, a roughly 400 acre green space just a few mins from Bardstown Road.  The Park too is full of joggers, walkers and bikers.  The Hogan Fountain Pavilion area has a group of musicians playing Boz Scaggs hits right next to a full-court, pick-up game of basketball.  A passer-by stops to ask me a few questions about the BOM…. he evidently had the same motorcycle years ago…. and really loved it….   I listen to the music for a half hour and then saddle-up again and head for downtown Louisville.  I love to just ride down interesting looking streets and see where they take me… it’s what I call ‘Urban Exploration.’  Today I visit the Louisville waterfront area, the YUM Center, Slugger Field, and even a home that Thomas Edison lived in, in the 1860s…  Market Street is another cool neighborhood, lots of galleries and restaurants / bars await a future visit!  At 6 PM, after an afternoon of great riding and exploring, it’s time to head towards home!
What a WONDERFUL day………….

Above, The Weird, Independent and Proud Neighborhood of the Highlands.

Below, Louisville Slugger Field.

Above the KFC Yum Center in Downtown Louisville.
Below, a few pictures of a small home Thomas Edison lived in while experimenting with light bulbs.

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Victory Garden, First Harvest 2013.

I wanted to post a short update on my “Victory Garden.”  It’s been less than 2 months since everything was planted and I already had a small-harvest today.  I wanted to get some of the vegetables out of the ground before the bugs, namely cabbage worms, and the deer got them.  I now know why the hunter shot “Bambi” at the end of the Disney Classic… It was probably because Bambi was eating all the vegetables from his garden!  I haven’t shot any deer this year but unfortunately they have discovered the garden.  The joke that a deer can smell a “Tic-Tac” in your pocket from a mile away is evidently true!  They didn’t bother the garden until about 2 weeks ago, when the plants were finally worthy of a meal.  I guess they were just window shopping during the early weeks of growth.  I have seen the band of misfits and they consist of 2 small bucks, a few does and a fawn.  Lucky for me I put some fencing around a few of the tomato plants before I went away for the week over the 4th of July.  While I was gone, a good neighbor was looking after the farm and he and his wife noticed the deer were enjoying the unprotected tomatoes and green beans.  They added more fencing and a noise maker.  That seems to have slowed the deer down a bit!  Today I was able to harvest some yellow squash, cabbage, radishes, Jalapeño and Serrano peppers, kale and red chicory.  The deer are not interested in the hot peppers at all.  Probably because they don’t have chips and salsa to go along with them!?  If I see the 2 bucks show up at the garden with a bag of “Dortitos,” I’ll know my hot-peppers are in trouble!

Victory Garden, Lessons Learned so far:

– Deer will eventually find your garden.  Where I live in Kentucky, the only real protection against deer are fencing, a dog or a shot gun.

– The soil around the plants needs to be tilled / raked regularly, if not the sun will bake the exposed soil in between plants and when it does rain the majority of water will not be absorbed into the ground and just wash away.  Additionally the exposed ground in between plans grows grass and weeds quickly.
The exception to this is the “square foot method” of gardening that I have been experimenting with.  I have found that if I plant a lot of one type of plant together in a tight spot, the soil stays softer under the shade of the leaves and requires less tilling / raking.  Also the weeds are chocked-out because of lack of sunlight.

– Growing “Organic Cabbage” requires regular hand-picking of cabbage-worms.  Those little green monsters are a pain in the buttocks!  I love Kimchee and decided it would be worth it to hand pick the worms off the plants to keep some of the cabbage worm and pesticide free!

Below are a few pictures from the Victory Garden, my recent “Harvest,”  and some Mexican-Kimchee!

Above and Below, the Victory Garden has enjoyed all the rain we have had this year in Central Kentucky.

Below, small cabbage, perfect for making Kimchee!

Below, the Carrots in my Square-Foot Gardening method.

Below, a few radishes.

Below, the deer-proof Roma bean planter.

Below, some yellow squash and hot-peppers.
Below, the veggies washed and ready to become Mexican-Kimchee and a garden-salad!
Below, my Mexican-Kimchee.  What is Mexican-Kimchee you ask…?  I don’t know but I think I made some today by adding jalapeño peppers to a traditional receipt of Kimchee!
Below, lunch for today!  A garden salad, veggies picked at 11:00 AM and eaten an hour later!  
Doesn’t get much fresher than that!

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Victory Garden… 2013

Popular during WWI and WWII, “Victory Gardens” were a common sight on the private property of many Americans’ homes.  The “Gardens” were a way for the average citizen to contribute to the war effort by lessening the pressure on the public food supply by producing vegetables, fruit and herbs for personal consumption.  This year I have decided to raise my own version of a “Victory Garden.” Not because we are, unfortunately, still at war in Afghanistan, but because I want to learn how to produce a portion of my own food!  My own food that I can control how it’s produced!  Over the decades since WWII, the private family farms that were once so common, have dwindled, now replaced by large-scale commercial mega-food-producing farms.  A few articles I have recently read say that the trend seems to be reversing itself… as more and more Americans are once again growing a portion their own fruits and vegetables.  They are interested in learning the art of vegetable gardening and at the same time becoming more self-sufficient!  
What are some of the advantages of growing your own food…?  
-You know where your food comes from.
-You can raise the food in a healthful manner, free of pesticides.
-You can save money….
The list goes on and on…….  Not to mention that it’s enjoyable watching the seeds you sow, produce something you can pick fresh and eat a few mins later.  
 My “Victory Garden” for 2013 has everything from artichokes to watermelon and 15 vegetables in-between.  I hope to be able to eat some of the “vegetables of my labor” in about 3 weeks.  
My kale should be ready by then!    

 Above, my “deer-proof” planter, with radish, broccoli, kale and cabbage.

Below, some of my square-foot gardening technique planters.  Not “deer-proof” but hopefully big producers nonetheless!

Below, some of the other vegetables on the farm!

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Thermal Cooker Lamb Stew.

Today I finally paid a visit to the Lexington Farmer’s Market.  I have been wanting to go for the last few months, especially since I have a pretty nice garden going this year on the little farm.  I was really impressed with the variety of vendors as well as the number of patrons.  The Market was pretty busy for early morning on a Saturday!  Since it was my first visit, I was more interested in seeing what local produce is available rather than doing a lot of shopping.  My garden won’t produce any vegetables until probably mid-July or early August and in the meantime, I’d like to have some healthy options where I can buy good quality, local produce.  I like supporting local, small-scale farms, because I know they work hard and in my opinion deserve a fair price for their products.  I saw a few farmers selling locally produced lamb.   Lamb is one of my favorite meats so I decided to buy some and the necessary vegetables to make a stew.  I bought zucchini squash, onions, tomatoes, garlic, new potatoes and a pound of ground lamb.  It was my first visit to the Lexington Farmer’s Market but it certainly won’t be my last!  
For more information about the Lexington Farmer’s Market, checkout the link below,
http://www.lexingtonfarmersmarket.com
Back at the farm, I broke out the Coleman Apex II camping stove and my Tiger thermal cooker.  I’ve posted articles before about thermal cookers, but still can’t say enough good things about them!  They really are a wonderful way to cook with minimal effort and minimal fuel use!   After washing and chopping the produce, I put all ingredients (see pictures below) including the lamb, into the thermal cooker inner-pot and placed it over the burner.  Once the contents have reached a rolling boil, in about 10 mins, I placed the inner-pot into the outer (thermal) pot and simply waited about 4 hours until the ingredients were fully cooked to enjoy!  For about $15.00 dollars I was able to make a healthy meal that fed me and 3 friends!  

Above and Below the ingredients of my Lamb Stew.

Above, the ingredients washed and chopped, ready to cook!

Below,  the thermal cooker reaching a rolling boil.

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Meanwhile Back on the Kentucky Farm… Part 3

I am currently in Kentucky, having visited family in Ohio and Michigan during the last month since I returned from a 6 month work deployment to Africa.  I am now preparing “Bertha” the Bigfoot Camper for Summer-Residency.  As you know, the best thing about a house on wheels is that those wheels turn and I will definitely be hitting the road for some adventures.  I’d hoped by-now that it would have been warmer in the Mid-West.  I mean come-on, we are almost into May?  But unfortunately at night the mercury still dips down into the 30s and April-Showers have been in full swing too!  It’s not that the cold is all that awful (I did grow up in Cleveland), but I could do without the muddy-mushy earth that comes with all the rain and the cooler temps!

The off-grid base camp / farm has many little projects that will keep me busy for the next few weeks …. trimming trees, burning brush, planting a large garden, working on the gravel-road, painting a fence… etc … there is always something to do when you own a little piece of property, with or without a home on it, there is always work to be done!

And the most important thing to do in the next few months is to spend time with Family and Friends!

Below a few pictures of the recently completed, “Bertha’s Bedroom.”

Last year, after a terribly hot Kentucky-August in Bertha, I decided to build a structure that would provide me and Bertha some shade.  In 2012, there were many nights when I went to bed at 11:00 PM and the camper’s inside temperature was in the high 80s and even 90s,  that makes sleeping a challenge. Before I left for Africa in September of 2012, a buddy and I were able to get the structure’s wood frame completed.  This week we were able to just about finish work on what I call, “Bertha’s Bedroom.”
There is a little more work to be done, but for the most part, she is ready.  And the good news is she survived the icy winter with no problems!  I am hoping that with the shade, the inside temperatures will be a lot cooler this Summer.  My experience with the benefits of shade came in Sisophon, Cambodia in 1993.  I was on a UN mission and living in a military GP tent for 7 months.  During the days, the temps inside the tent could reach the high 90s.  After a few months in country, our Engineer Platoon built tin-roofed structures over the tents, much like Bertha’s Bedroom and temperatures dropped 20 degrees immediately.  That’s what I am hoping for.  We will see… more to follow!

Below, this year I’ve decided size does matter and will plant a bigger garden!
I am a tilled-up and ready to plant… I just need the soil to dry-up a bit!

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